Rurally Speaking: Is Your Department “Shining” Or “Whining”?

By Carl J. Haddon

Each time I start a new article, I think I’ll be able to write “Post Pandemic” material that will feel more “normal” for all of us. Life is hard right now. People seem on edge and looking for a reason to fight. In some places, firefighters seem to have become targets for violence. Morale seems to be suffering everywhere. It is our reality, at least for the time being, right? How we as firefighters deal with “it” is what can make the difference. Are you whining, or are you shining?

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As I go forward, please know that I am not suggesting anyone or any department go against established policy, procedures, or governmental health mandates. What I am suggesting is that we pull ourselves up, and use these times to remind each other, and our communities just what a valuable asset our fire departments are! Times like these are when our brotherhood and sisterhood really need to shine.

So, what can we do about it, you ask? Perhaps start by rallying the troops. For volunteer departments, maybe start by calling (NOT TEXTING OR EMAILING) members to see how they’re doing. (with permission). Gather a few members at a time, pull apparatus out onto the front apron, and wash the rigs. Go through the rigs, do system and equipment checks. I guarantee that you’ll find something that needs attention. Maybe you’ll learn something new about a piece of equipment or a particular apparatus. If not, maybe you’re the member who will teach something to another firefighter. BTW, I’m not talking about only doing these things on your drill night. Show the public and your fellow firefighters that you’re “into the job.” Go do these things for an hour or two on a weekend or evening or whenever you can get members together.

For those of you who may not know this, the public in general LOVES seeing us do our thing—and not just when we’re responding to calls for help. Remember too, that the public likes seeing us take pride in OUR fire department. When you can do these things in public, try to show your pride in even simple ways. Wear a clean and nice fire department shirt or t-shirt. Present as someone your community members would be comfortable approaching and talking with. Many of you may have heard me say this in officer development classes, but I think it is worth repeating: Remember that you and your rigs are a reflection of your department in the public’s eye. If your rigs are routinely dirty and unkempt, that is how your department is seen. Centuries ago, my training officers used to tell us “If the chrome shines, the rig shines.” I believe that still holds true today. If I’m the officer (or firefighter for that matter), and I have spaghetti sauce/gravy dripped on my uniform shirt. The only thing the public will see when I’m out and about is that sauce or stain. It won’t matter a lick how many bugles I wear on my collar or if the rank below the name says chief.

During these difficult times, we need to be creative within the community while being safe and responsible. I have departments that are actively offering things like smoke detectors or smoke detector batteries that they will deliver to the curb or doorstep. This is also a great drill for new apparatus operators, and the whole crew, as it reinforces familiarity with your response area. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local businesses, apparatus and equipment dealers, and manufacturers for help with creative ideas. Remember that by helping the local fire department, their businesses, goods, and services shine too!

It is really easy to get sucked down the whining path, “hole up,” and do nothing. It’s much harder to adapt and overcome in situations like we face now, but the good news is that the rewards are worth the effort. 

Cheers, and here’s to hoping that you all are staying safe and healthy!

CARL J. HADDON is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board and the director of Five Star Fire Training LLC, which is sponsored, in part, by Volvo North America. He served as assistant chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork (ID) Fire Department and is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS services in southern California. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor and an ISFSI member and teaches Five Star Auto Extrication and NFPA 610 classes across the country.

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